One of the big problems with cryptid sightings is the credibility of the witnesses. The fast buck appeal of selling a hoax photograph or story is obvious; Bigfoot, Nessie and the Abominable Snowman sell countless books and articles every year. Because people want to believe, it doesn’t really matter that the primary source in these encounters is often a web-fingered monotoothed moonshine addict named Urkel whose primary concerns in life are incest and crystal meth. If you’re a little more analytical about it, the cryptid sightings with seemingly credible witnesses tend to be the more believable ones – if there isn’t a good reason to doubt those involved or their motives, it naturally seems a darn sight more likely that they genuinely encountered something extraordinary.
Which brings us to the 1959 Dyatlov Pass incident and the nine hikers who encountered something in the Ural Mountains. Their credibility gains an instant boost for their pure dedication to the story – they didn’t try to profit from it, because they were all far too busy being fucking dead.
I’m not a hiker or a climber. In fact, to me, freezing my tender little balls off up the side of a Russian mountain sounds about as fun and sensible as informing OJ Simpson that it’s over and I’ve met someone else. I spent my university days in an alcoholic coma, but things are apparently a little different in Russia – Igor Dyatlov, for example, decided that the best thing to do with his time at the Ural Polytechnical Institute was to lead a ten-person ski trek across a mountain pass in the Sverdlovsk Oblast. If you’re not sure where that is, rest assured that it’s somewhere between Hell itself and that bit at the back of the freezer that you never want to touch because it’ll rip the skin right off the tips of your fingers.
The ten experienced hikers began their trek through the mountain pass on January 27, 1959. A day later the lucky sod pictured above, Yuri Yudin, decided he was too ill to press on and turned back – he went on to live until April 2013, presumably feeling pretty bloody guilty every time he turned the heating on. His nine friends weren’t so lucky, and their final days had to be pieced together from the diaries and photos discovered at the various sites involved in their deaths, like a rubbish black and white Blair Witch Project.
Rescue teams eventually found their final camp off the planned course on the western slope of Mount Kolat Syakhyl, which translates from the local Mansi into “Mountain of the Dead”. Quite why the hell you’d want to go anywhere near a place called the Mountain of the Dead is beyond me, especially considering that Mount Slutty Supermodels In a Cocaine Jacuzzi was apparently just a few kilometres further east.
Investigators found a half-collapsed tent that had been frantically slashed open from the inside. Warm clothes and provisions were left behind – nine sets of tracks fled from the scene; some completely barefoot, one wearing one shoe, others just in socks. Further into the pass, by a large cedar at the edge of the woods, the first bodies were found – Yuri Krivonischenko and Yuri Doroshenko, both wearing nothing but their underwear and huddled around a wholly inadequate makeshift campfire. The branches of the tree were broken, indicating that someone had climbed it to look around. Three more bodies were found between the cedar and the abandoned camp, including that of Dyatlov himself.
The first five hikers all seemed to have died of exposure, which is understandable when you go bumbling about in -30 celsius temperatures wearing nothing more than your fuzzy Russian undies. The discovery of the final four bodies, however, changed the picture entirely.
On May 4th, 75 metres away from the cedar tree and covered by several metres of snow at the bottom of a ravine, the final four hikers were found. Despite having no obvious external trauma, three of them had serious or fatal injuries; a crushed skull, two massive chest fractures, and just to add a bit of horror, one missing fucking tongue. One doctor compared the injuries to car accidents or those caused by sudden, massive changes in pressure. The injuries made no apparent sense, and neither did the fact that the bodies tested positive for completely unexplainable levels of beta radiation.
The pass was closed to hikers and skiiers for years following the grisly incident, and the pass itself was renamed in Dyatlov’s honour. Conspiracy theories abound about what truly happened – one young witness claims to have seen an unnatural orange hue to the bodies at the hikers’ funerals, while a group hiking further south insisted there were strange lights in the sky the night that Dyatlov’s group frantically abandoned their tent and any hope of survival.
The official government inquiry didn’t do much to solve the mystery either. The final verdict was that an unknown and “compelling natural force” caused the hikers to flee their tent and meet their deaths, which is about as close as we’re ever going to get to a politician turning round and admitting that a RADIOACTIVE MOTHERFUCKING YETI murdered nine innocent people.